30 March 2009

The Bird's on the Wing

A few announcements of my comings and goings over the next few months:

I'll be attending the SCBWI-NE annual conference from April 24-25, critiquing manuscripts and hob-nobbing with fabulous writers and illustrators. If you see me, feel free to introduce yourself — I'd love to meet you!

In addition, I'll be attending BEA this year in New York; I should be there for two days, exact dates to come. If you're a publisher or agent attending the show, and you'd like to get together, drop me a line at query@bluebirdworks.com.

And FINALLY, I'm very happy to announce that I'll be involved in two writing programs, one this summer and one in the fall.

In late June 2009, I'll be the editor-in-residence at the ASTAL (Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature) Institute at Rhode Island College. Exact dates to be announced.

Also this June, I'll be lecturing on the fundamentals of editing at the summer residency for Lesley College's graduate creative writing program.  This will be the kick-off for the semester-long editing course I'll be teaching, which will be offered in the fall. Exact dates to be announced.

More news to come! Let me know if you have questions...

27 March 2009

Inspiration Board

I've had a functioning home office for less than a year now, but it's easily my favorite room in our house. It's a lovely space on the second floor, tailored to my every need by my wonderful (and handy) husband, including plenty of natural light, extra-wide, extra-deep shelving for 11" x 17" layouts, built-in drawers for stationery and office supplies, and a big stuffed reading chair that rocks and reclines. In a word, heaven.

And yet, until recently, something had been missing. I'd feel it especially when sitting at my desk. Sure, I had a mug overflowing with pens, a framed photo or two, the requisite crocheted hotdog. But I needed something more. I needed inspiration.

I've spent a lot of time in the workspaces of my fellow "creatives" (editors, designers, et al), all of whom have an inspiration board of one kind or another. This is either an actual corkboard, or just the nearest wall, on which they've affixed all manner of ephemera — snippets of text, images downloaded from the web or clipped from magazines, funky postcards, movie posters, CD covers, successful (and unsuccessful) book jackets, and other evocative bits and bobs. In short, it's a bit like looking into that person's brain, at the creative potpourri whirling around inside. 

As we're doing creative work, it helps to have external stimuli to motivate and inspire us, especially as most of us spend so much time at our desks, away from the actual outside world. Hence, the inspiration board.

That's what I was missing. So, for Valentine's Day, ever-handy hubs took two vintage frames, some spraypaint, some foamcore, and some cork sheeting, and voila! My office was finally complete. (One of the two boards is pictured above.)

If you haven't already, I highly recommend assembling an inspiration board for yourself.  It could be a simple as taping your favorite quote to the wall over your computer or drawing table, or you could get yourself a little (or not-so-little) corkboard and go crazy. You could even tailor your board to whatever you're working on — images and quotes from an appropriate time period if you're writing historical fiction, photos from a particular locale to help you flesh out your setting, or photos of yourself as a kid if you're trying to get back in touch with your inner child.

So far, my own inspiration boards aren't as full as they could be — building them is a slow process. But here are a few things I've already put on display, to keep myself creatively-stimulated, not to mention amused:

1. A set of retro-80s ribbon barrettes, made for me by a particularly crafty author
2. A card featuring a dog standing on its hind legs while its owner awards him with a treat, under which another author of mine has written "The Editor-Writer Relationship"
3. A photo of my sister, age 8 or so, smiling while sliding headfirst down a slide, wearing a swimcap and goggles
4. A printout of my latest mantra, a quote by Octavia Butler: "Habit is more important than inspiration." 
5. A ridiculously lame toy from the 70s, in the form of an orange chenille worm with googly eyes, which I desperately wanted as a child, recently reissued (and renamed, inexplicably, "Squirmles") and bought for me by my sister at Target
6. A certain pithy fortune cookie fortune

What's on your inspiration board?

20 March 2009

17 March 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, March Edition

1. Seeing $1.99 movies at the Patriot 

2. Dove Dark Chocolate Promises with Almonds

3. Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series

4. "Damages" and the very kick-ass Glenn Close

5. The SXSW book publishing panel and the simultaneous mutiny/Twitter-fest of its audience

6. Making a big clothing donation 

7. What the writers of the "L Word" series finale were thinking

8. Whether I should opt for a Kindle or Sony Reader

9. When I might afford to buy a Kindle or Sony Reader

10. Fat Bastard Blushing Bastard Rosé, and the day, not long from now, that I'll be sipping it on my back porch

And you?

10 March 2009

On Keeping a Writing Journal

If I could only give one piece of advice to writers (aside from back up your files), it would be to keep a writing journal. This is like keeping a regular diary, but you're specifically recounting your daily writing experiences and your emotional responses to those experiences.

I practice what I preach. I keep a little Moleskine notebook nearby at all times, and spend time each day jotting down story ideas and how I'm feeling about what I've written. More often than not, that feeling is crappy. But when I go on to articulate why I'm feeling so negatively, whether it's because a scene isn't working or a character doesn't fit or a dialogue exchange feels unnatural, I eventually and invariably solve the problem. There's something about figuring out a writing problem by writing it out that just works. 

For instance, I was muddling through a YA novel where the narrator's sister died in a car accident halfway through the story. After the accident, the story just fell apart. I was devastated. I wrote about it in my journal, about how everything turned to steaming doo-doo after the sister died. And then I wrote the question, What if she doesn't die? Whoa. That turned everything upside-down! Suddenly, I'd opened up the story to new possibilities, and opened myself up to a new sense of hopefulness. (Caveat: I still haven't finished the story. But that's another problem for another time.)

Also? It's valuable to keep a record of the ups and downs of your writing process. I may feel crappy and hopeless about what I'm writing most of the time, but at a certain point, a little more than halfway through, when I can see the end of the tunnel, I start feeling hopeful. When I'm working on my next story and I find myself in that crappy, hopeless mood, I can read through the journal of my previous experience and realize that A. I felt crappy and hopeless before, so this is all just part of my process, and that B. eventually, things worked out.

It may seem like a lot, to work in a routine of writing about what you're writing about, but it really is helpful. And if it helps the world's most negative, easily discouraged writer (aka moi), you should at least give it a try, don't you think?

P.S. Yes, I've used the word "crappy" a lot in this entry, and no, I'm not going to apologize for it.

06 March 2009

The Allegory of the Hotdog

Each holiday season, Providence-area artisans gather themselves downtown and offer their clever wares at a month-long festival called Craftland. I do a good little bit of Christmas shopping there — though, admittedly, it is mostly for myself.

This past year, I attended the event a bit late, having already done all of my well-deserved self-shopping. I was there merely to browse, and had nothing left I really needed or wanted. Or so I thought. 

Before long, I ended up buying two pieces of art, one by the very talented Jen Corace, and one by another fave of mine, Jaime Zollars. You might think I was finished at that point. You might think I was spent, both literally and figuratively. But no. Not so fast, Kara's wallet.

Wanting to make sure I did my due diligence, I browsed the rest of Craftland, giving each artisan a (however-futile) chance to tempt me. Eventually, I made my way past the kitschy-cool t-shirts and handmade messenger bags and lovely jewelry — all of it wonderful, none of it quite striking me. But there, at the very back, nearly hidden amongst some handmade baby clothes and googly-eyed magnets, was where I saw it.

A crocheted hotdog.

Let it be said that I never imagined such a thing as a crocheted hotdog even existed, let alone that I would feel such a strong desire for it. But it spoke to me in more ways than one — I have a special place in my heart for all things crocheted-with-love (thanks to my grandmother, a crafty lady in her own right), and I believe hotdogs are innately hilarious. So there it was, and there I was, and there my wallet was, and that was that. It was just so strange and funny and audacious, I had to have it. It was exactly what I wanted, exactly what I needed, and I didn't know it until that very moment.

This crocheted hotdog has earned a place of honor on my desk, for two reasons. It's a reminder of the way new ideas and projects can (and should) surprise and enthrall me. And it symbolizes what I'm always striving for in my work, both as an editor and as an author: something strange and funny and audacious. And something that gives you plenty of food for thought. 

Ideally, with relish.

-K : )

P.S. If you'd like to purchase your own crocheted treasure, the artist maintains an Etsy shop here. I don't see any hotdogs there at present, but you could always email for status...